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What is Common Law Marriage?

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In its simplest form, Common Law Marriage is a contract created between a man and a woman to be married. 

By Attorney Jeffrey B. Engle, Family Law Division Leader, Harrisburg, PA

In Caddy v. Johnstown Firemen's Relief Asso. (1938) 129 Pa Super Ct 493, 196 A 590, the Supreme Court said: "In Pennsylvania, marriage is a civil contract, and does not require a ceremony before officers of church or state to complete it, but it may be entered into by the parties themselves in words of the present tense, with a view and for the purpose of then and there establishing the relation of husband and wife."

A common-law marriage could be created only by an exchange of words in the present tense, spoken with the specific purpose that the legal relationship of husband and wife is created by that.  A common-law marriage implies that both parties are able and willing to marry and that they solemnly enter into a contract of marriage.  The intent to establish a marital relationship is essential.

For example, where there were words to the effect that "You belong to me. Be my wife. You'll always be my wife no matter what," and the prospective wife agreed, a common-law marriage was established, because such conduct demonstrates a clear desire to reestablish a marital relationship.  A marriage contract need only be an agreement presently to enter into the legal relationship of marriage and does not require a specific form of words.  The express agreement to create a common-law marriage occurs without ceremony and almost invariably without a witness.

Reminder:A common-law marriage contracted after January 1, 2005, is not valid.

If you have questions concerning Common Law Marriage in PA, divorce, separation, or any family law matter, contact the experienced team at Shaffer & Engle Law Offices, LLC toll free or email us today. 

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